Health

‘Systemic Problems’ Hindered Government’s Pandemic Response, Senate Report Says

WASHINGTON — A new examination by Senate Democrats of how the federal government bungled its early response to the coronavirus pandemic faults President Donald J. Trump and his administration for numerous missteps while also laying blame on “multiple systemic problems” that long predated his time in office.

The 241-page report, released on Thursday, was produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The report relied on documents and interviews with key Trump administration officials, including Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, who served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many issues covered in the report, such as serious problems with data collection and insufficient testing capacity, had already been explored by news organizations, but the study painted a sweeping portrait of a government that was wholly unprepared for the arrival of a deadly new pathogen.

The report cited inadequate funding, supply chain vulnerabilities, overlapping government roles and other problems that it said “have been flagged by experts and oversight agencies for years, yet have been largely overlooked by all branches of the federal government.”

It found, for example, that a public health emergency fund created to support state and local health systems had received no new appropriations since 1999 and had been “virtually empty” since 2012.

A New U.S. Congress Takes Shape

Following the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats maintained control of the Senate while Republicans flipped the House.

  • Divided Government: What does a split Congress mean for the next two years? Most likely a gridlock that could lead to government shutdowns and economic turmoil.
  • Democratic Leadership: House Democrats elected Hakeem Jeffries as their next leader, ushering in a generational shift that includes women and people of color in all the top posts for the first time.
  • G.O.P. Leadership: After a midterms letdown, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell faced threats to their power from an emboldened right flank.
  • Ready for Battle: An initiative by progressive groups called Courage for America is rolling out a coordinated effort to counter the new Republican House majority and expected investigations of the Biden administration.

While the federal preparedness apparatus had been in place for decades, the report noted that planning from 2005 through 2019 had been “narrowly focused on influenza and failed to adequately incorporate other potential infectious disease threats.”

The report is not the first analysis of the coronavirus outbreak to come out of Congress.

The top Republican on the Senate health committee, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, recently released a report asserting that the pandemic was likely the result of a laboratory accident in China — a theory that is popular with his party but not with scientists. The House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, controlled by Democrats, has produced a series of scathing reports about the Trump administration’s response.

The Senate homeland security committee’s analysis was narrow in scope. It focused on the chaotic first few months of the pandemic, after the coronavirus was first identified in China in December 2019. At the beginning of the outbreak, the United States “failed to heed critical public warnings that foreshadowed the severity and transmissibility of the virus,” the report said.

As the crisis unfolded, the report said, the White House barred the C.D.C. from holding news briefings. Though experts repeatedly recommended the use of face masks, the administration did not formally do so until April 3, 2020 — and even then, Mr. Trump declined to wear one. He also insisted the virus would disappear.

“There’s no question that political decisions were being made and that those decisions were unfortunately considered more important than what was being put out by public health officials,” Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the homeland security committee, told reporters on Wednesday.

He added, “And so that got politicized in a way that it should have never been politicized — and lives would have likely been saved.”

But at the same time, Mr. Peters said, there was “no question that there were systemic problems that were unaddressed for decades.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign defended his response to the pandemic, citing his efforts to obtain medical equipment and provide assistance to states.

The spokesman, Steven Cheung, also cited Operation Warp Speed, the government program that supported the development of vaccines and treatments, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime initiative.” The Senate report singled out that program for praise.

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